Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Despite $2M Gap, City Administration Hopes to Hold the Line on 2014 Property Taxes

By Christina Georgiou

Easton Mayor Sal Panto announced Wednesday afternoon
that the city faces a serious budget gap, but he
hopes to hold the line on city property taxes for 2014.
 The City of Easton is facing a serious budgerary shortfall for 2014, but the city's administration doesn't intend a property tax increase to cover the gap, Mayor Sal Panto said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

The mayor will present the 2014 budget proposal at a special meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. in city council chambers in accordance with the city's Home Rule charter stipulations, but city council members won't be deliberating on it until later in the month or even later.

"Usually they wait until November to start the hearings," Panto said, adding that changes to the initial proposal are nearly inevitable during the process.

"I will tell you this budget is a very difficult budget," he said. "Our big problem is healthcare (costs)."

The City of Easton is self-insured, and 17 major employee medical claims this year drove up the  city's healthcare costs far more than than is usual or than that city officials could anticipate, he said.

"Our healthcare costs (estimates) this year look like they're under by about a million dollars," Panto said.

That amount is in addition to another $1.8 million shortfall that city officials said they already expected due to rising costs, including those of city pension expenses. Together, pension and healthcare costs will total about $24 million in 2014.

Though an estimated $1.2 million savings on the city's new trash contracTot is expected, there is still about a $1.6 million gap that still needs to be covered, Panto estimated.

"Tough decisions are going to have to be made," he said. "It's going to be a tough year."

Panto said he's not sure exactly what adjustments the administration will propose, but possibilities include cutting back or closing city swimming pools next year, closing one of the city's fire department substations, and/or not hiring for vacant positions in city hall.

"Our swimming pools lost a lot of money (this year)--over $100,000," he said, adding that cutting back on recreation or fire department substation expenses are two possibilities that have been discussed but rejected previously in the face of budget gaps. "Those issues might come up again."

"Right now, we're looking at vacant positions that maybe we might not fill," he said, adding that at this point, city employees layoffs are not an option that is being considered.

Reducing expenses or city services is a better option though, than raising property taxes, Panto said, though it's still possible that some fee increases may be proposed instead.

"I just can't see increasing taxes on people that are unemployed and seniors," Panto said.

The current city property tax is sitting at about 29 mills, less than the maximum allowed to the city under state law.

"We could go over that," he said. "It's just that I believe it's not fair."

He added, "My primary goal is no increase in property taxes, and my second priority is no increases of any kind."

Updated at 4:41 p.m. to add a photo.

No comments:

Post a Comment